Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More to the Point...

I figured there would be more to say about the language usage of Christians.

In my last post, I wondered about the tendency of many Christians to sanitize their language, sometimes to the point of becoming a reincarnation of Caspar Milquetoast (here's the Wikipedia article about this cartoon character).

I think we need to dig deeper into this, because often what happens is that the Jesus-follower is a model of decorum and circumspect language when among his Christian friends, but a profanity-spewing four-letter-word machine when among his non-Christian friends. In other words, he's a hypocrite.

On the other hand, Jesus is the very model of an integrated person. What he told you could be depended upon to mean exactly what he intended. His "tough" sayings are mostly meant to be tough, to force the listener to think and perhaps confront his preconceptions and prejudices and ultimately, his sin. Some of the tough ones, though, are hard to follow because we're not living in first-century Palestine, and frankly, don't have the cultural context in which Jesus' words were said.

When Jesus went after a person or a group, assaulting them with the force of his words, he was quite offensive. How would you like to invite someone to your house and be told that you and your friends were a "nest of serpents," "hypocrites!" and so forth? Jesus pulled no punches. There was none of the Caspar Milquetoast role for him.

Why did he go after the Pharisees and other officials in the Jewish religious establishment? Was he merely being mean, or was there something deeper at work? In various commentaries, it's explained that he was attacking the religious leaders for their hypocrisy. They were strict keepers of Torah, but failed to live up to the spirit of that law. They gamed the system so that they could be very punctilious, but always turned it to their own advantage. They were status seekers, corrupt in following what God had directed man to do. This corrupt nature wasn't universal among the Jewish leaders, though; there were some who had real interest in hearing what this new rabbi had to say, and could respond with a yielding heart. Most, however, were in love with the place where they found themselves, with all the power and prestige it commanded.

So does Jesus attack us if we're hypocrites, by our use of language and the way we live lives that are compartmentalized into religious and secular pigeonholes? Do we really believe that we're going to get a pat on the head and be told that it's okay, that he understands? It's just my own opinion, but I completely doubt that's the way his Gospel works.

I believe there's a place for forthright language among Christians. I'm saying that we should be aware of the power of profanity, of cursing, and of how we use words of that sort.

For instance, I hope I never have the urge to say something like, "Well, he was caught sleeping with her." For one thing, I doubt if sleeping was really on his or her mind. For another, it disguises what was going on. Call it what it was--he was screwing her repeatedly. Be honest.

Or maybe, don't say anything. We're told in various parts of Scripture that gossip is one of those things we should not do. Repeating tales about someone's moral failings, in titillating detail, probably qualifies as gossip. So am I wrong if I determine that I can gain nothing by repeating something damaging about someone else?

And let's be clear on the difference between cursing and profanity. Cursing, to me, sounds akin to pronouncing a curse on someone, an act of verbal aggression against another person. What do we experience when we shout, "Fuck you, you moron!" at another human being? We're hurling hatred, murderous intent, at another man or woman, and that makes us guilty of murder itself in Jesus' view.

Profanity, on the other hand, is "words that people don't want to hear," as I told my son when he was growing up. I refused then, and I refuse now, to call these "bad words." They're not bad words, they're words that make some people uncomfortable. Use them judiciously, if you're going to use them at all. Don't diminish their impact by peppering every sentence you utter with frequent repetitions of them. Sometimes they're appropriate, sometimes not. Good judgment on when the time is right will develop over the years as one grows older.

I suppose I should let the apostle Paul, the great writer of letters to churches all over the Mediterranean, have the last word. I've heard it said that Jesus founded the church, and Paul (and Peter and some others) worked out the details of how to actually implement it. In 1 Corinthians 10 we read this:

10:23 “Everything is lawful,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is lawful,” but not everything builds others up. 10:24 Do not seek your own good, but the good of the other person. 10:25 Eat anything that is sold in the marketplace without questions of conscience, 10:26 for the earth and its abundance are the Lord’s. 10:27 If an unbeliever invites you to dinner and you want to go, eat whatever is served without asking questions of conscience. 10:28 But if someone says to you, “This is from a sacrifice,” do not eat, because of the one who told you and because of conscience – 10:29 I do not mean yours but the other person’s. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 10:30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I blamed for the food that I give thanks for? 10:31 So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. 10:32 Do not give offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God, 10:33 just as I also try to please everyone in all things. I do not seek my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved. 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

So, everything is lawful (in the new Kingdom reality that Jesus ushered in, and Paul spent his life proclaiming), but not everything is beneficial. Do we feel that way about our language? Are we choosing our words carefully, or are we just operating by shooting from the lip? Like just about every other part of the Christian life, how we express ourselves requires thought and careful intention. I don't believe that precludes using forceful or even "dirty" words, but we need to know what we expect to accomplish when we do so. Is that goal part of our life of honoring God, or is it self-indulgence? I believe we'll one day have to give an account of what we did during our lives. How will we explain this sort of thing?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

In Other Words

Where do I begin...

Several things have occurred in the last few days that all have come together to inspire this post. I'm going to try to put them in some context, using the perspective of the Bible--as it is today in the minds of believers, and what it was like in the time it was being written.

First, there's the "Save the Boobs" public service announcement. There was a story on today about the video that has gotten a lot of attention lately. Just to see what I'm talking about, here it is on YouTube:

There were several comments on, mostly supportive of the idea of breast cancer awareness, which was really what the PSA was about. Several commenters, as of this evening, have taken exception to the ad--it was too sexy, it was exploitative, it didn't really address the tragedy of the disease, etc. In my own mind, the ad makes perfect sense. Yes, it is sexy, and yes, it does focus attention on something other than the tragedy of the disease. But that's the point--the ad does this to shock us out of our complacency and realize that breast cancer is a killer of young women, not just of older women. In that, I think it's a rousing success.

One sentiment appeared in several of the comments. People complaining about the ad were viewed as being too uptight, too hung up on the body of the model. One commenter said, "Relax people!"

This leads right up to the next thing I wanted to post about, which is that I'm currently reading "Lamb," a novel by Christopher Moore. It's subtitled "The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal." Now that seems like an appropriate thing to tick some people off. It purports to be the previously untold account of the first thirty years of Joshua's life. For those not aware, Joshua is closer to the actual name of the son of God than Jesus. Jesus is a transliteration of the Greek version of his name. So, it's the story of Josh and his childhood bud Biff.

Josh and Biff have a lot of adventures, and I won't go on at length to recount them. I'll only recommend that anyone curious find this book and sit down to a good read. It's by turns frat-boy hilarious and poignant. One thing that several commenters have pointed out in various forums is that there is some "dirty language" in the book. There are words that refer to the act of sexual intercourse. There's a word that is used to refer to human feces. There is mention--heaven help us!--of breasts, and of various things that can be done with them.

In other words, this novel is written in a modern day idiom, although it takes place in the first years of the first century. Does anyone seriously believe that people of that time spoke in King James English? Or at least, the Greek or Aramaic equivalent?

And that brings me to something that has been puzzling me for a long, long time.

Why are we as Christians expected to abstain from the use of "earthy" terms to refer to certain things? We'll say "oh, crap!" when we really mean "oh, shit!" We'll dance around various subjects because they're so indelicate. We'll get uptight because there are bare breasts in a picture, or somebody has their butt exposed.

And this wussiness is characteristic of the larger American society as well, even as parts of that society are fixated on really healthy things like beauty contests and smirking glances at "up-skirt" pictures on web sites. Britney Spears and Paris Hilton tapped into a national vein of twelve-year-old-boyism with their no-underwear paparazzi photos. Thank God for the digital patches that protect us from those flagrant body parts. And I'm so glad that not only do those dirty words get bleeped, but that we obscure the mouths (and hands--wouldn't want to see any offensive finger gestures!) of people who are just too free with their words.

This is really nothing new, of course. In some ways we've been a nation of hypocrites for a very long time. There have been plenty of books and articles written about our "cover that up!" but "let me see it!" mental disconnect over the years. I'm not going to delve into that, except to point out that the good Christian disdain for earthy language is just part of a larger phenomenon.

No, as I mentioned above, I wanted to view these two things through the lens of the Bible, as it is now and as it was when it was written.

As it is now, the Bible gets sanitized, euphemized, and frankly, in my opinion, de-fanged. There are plenty of places in both the Old and the New Testaments where earthy language is used, but we never really wrap our arms around those spots. Instead, we stick (more often than not) to the easier parts, the parts that don't slap us upside the head with a gutsy harshness that could take our breath away.

The Bible as it was written, though, now that's an entirely different item. Consider for a moment the times in which the Bible was written, two thousand and more years ago. In the Roman Empire, for example, it was routine to crucify someone very publicly, and leave their rotting corpse hanging on the cross until birds had picked the bones clean. Public executions by crucifixion were common--nothing got Roman magistrates or soldiers angry as fast as someone endangering the Pax Romana. There was nothing like the relatively easy sentences of today, when so many nations have eliminated the death penalty altogether. Even the mistreatment of inmates at Abu Ghraib pales in comparison to what was done in the Roman Empire.

The times during which the Bible was written, roughly two to three thousand years ago, were times that would have made many Christians of delicate mind faint. Slavery was rampant, the very basis of most societies. Life expectancy probably ranged from 25 to 35 years. Child mortality was wide-spread, and many children were left out in the open, to die of exposure, for a variety of reasons. Wars seemed to erupt at frequent intervals, often over the most minor of causes. Disease was rampant. Leisure was rare, and certainly not found by many beneath the nobility. In short, it was a harsher time that we have very little familiarity with.

It was in these harsh times that our Bible was written, in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. There are plenty of places in Scripture where earthy language--shockingly direct language--is used to make a point. For instance, in Ezekiel 23, we read this:

23:20 She lusted after their genitals – as large as those of donkeys, and their seminal emission was as strong as that of stallions. 23:21 This is how you assessed the obscene conduct of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled your nipples and squeezed your young breasts. [all citations from the NET Bible]

In Isaiah, there's this passage:

57:8 Behind the door and doorpost you put your symbols. Indeed, you depart from me and go up and invite them into bed with you. You purchase favors from them, you love their bed, and gaze longingly on their genitals.

Of course, there's the Song of Songs:

4:5 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of the gazelle grazing among the lilies.

7:1 (7:2) How beautiful are your sandaled feet, O nobleman’s daughter! The curves of your thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a master craftsman. 7:2 Your navel is a round mixing bowl – may it never lack mixed wine! Your belly is a mound of wheat, encircled by lilies. 7:3 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.

Interestingly enough, the note for the word translated as "navel" ponders whether it means "navel" or "vulva." It seems like someone is always getting their "horn exalted." David (the future king) had to bring back one hundred Philistine men's foreskins as a gift to King Saul to marry his daughter Michal. David, the perpetual over-achiever, brought back two hundred foreskins instead.

In the New Testament as well, we get hit in the face with the reality of life in a time perhaps more dangerous, or at least less sanitized, than our own. For instance, Paul writes in Philippians 3:

3:8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, 3:9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.

What is translated as "dung" here could probably be put in a stronger vernacular as "shit." The translators' notes say that the word--ancient Greek "skubala"--refers to "a vulgar term for fecal matter." That sounds like shit to me.

Paul, the great letter writer of the New Testament, mentions all sorts of things people do that can get them crossways with God. Things like prostitution, incest, homosexual behavior, and on and on. There are child sacrifices in the Old Testament, temple prostitutes, hypocrisy, vanity, gluttony, swords stabbing so deep that the contents of the bowels come oozing out, people getting tent stakes driven through their heads when they think they're safe, genocide, death, murder, infidelity, and so much more.

And yet this is the book of God's word. This is the story that promises that God loves us and wants us to be reconnected with him. This book, with all the brutality of its imagery, all the bluntness of its language, is the holy Scripture that we say we follow.

All I can say about all this is that we need to do some major soul-searching about our attitudes about language, words, and what's important and not important. The God of the Bible is a god who uses direct, in your face language to get his point across. And more than language--look at what his Son had to do!

Christianity at its heart is not a faith for those of delicate sensibilities. PETA members may think that blood sacrifices were an anomaly, but Jesus' death on the cross shows that to be the delusion it is. Christians know this truth about our faith, if they're honest, but we just don't communicate it very well to those outside the walls of the church.

Enough of this musing. I don't believe for a minute that by the strength of my words I'm going to make any real change in the attitudes of people who would rather euphemize so much of the reality out of life. If I've planted any seed of subversion, though, an attitude of new interest in the Bible, then I'll consider this effort successful. There are some parts of the Bible that could be viewed as "dirty." This is the word of God, however. It got one man killed two thousand years ago because his words so offended the elite of his time. There's no way it can keep from being offensive.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Red, White, and Blue

This is hilarious!

I was in Gmail, reading the latest messages, and at the top of the Inbox was the "Sponsored Link" to "Stop Robin Carnahan!" Clicking on the link took me to the webpage, where I read the following plaintive plea:

Stand with the NRSC by signing up.
Help us end the Democrats' one-party rule in Washington and bring some desparately-needed checks and balances.


By the way, this was all targeted at "Electing a Republican majority Senate."

I find this effort hugely ironic. Just a few years ago, Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, and so many other Republican luminaries were trying to create a "permanent Republican majority." There's a book on Amazon called "Painting the Map Red," by Hugh Hewitt, subtitled "The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority." It was printed in March, 2006, when it looked like there might be a chance for that to happen.

The ad on Gmail was what I would expect from a party that got its clock as thoroughly cleaned as the Republicans did in 2008.

Now, philosophically, I think that the ideal situation is when there is more or less parity in party membership in the House and the Senate. This state of affairs requires that the Administration, the leadership of the two houses, and others involved in legislating develop a way of working together that will deliberate and create good legislation that achieves consensus. This is the ideal.

In today's polarized, hyper-partisan political climate, though, that ideal is about as likely to happen as the sun rising in the west. The party that tried to create a permanent majority in the first decade of this century now wants to try that whole operation again. Does anyone look back with fondness on the last eight years? Maybe there are some Republican operatives who do, but when I look back I see eight years filled with hubris, overweaning arrogance, incompetence, and no sense that "truth" was anything more than something else to bend and warp to serve the need to remain in power at all costs. Aside from a few bright spots like increased aid for HIV care in Africa, the last eight years were a disaster visited upon these United States of America.

In case you reading this think I'm some sort of uncritical Democratic Party fanboy, recalibrate your expectations. I expect the same intelligence, competence, and efforts to work across party lines, and for the good of the country overall, from the Democrats as I would from the Republicans. Since the Republican party seems at present unwilling to reach for a standard of competence and intelligence demanded by the problems and opportunities facing this country, that leaves only the Democrats stepping up to the plate.

The obstacles and obstructionism that the current GOP has been exhibiting are making it less and less likely that I will ever vote Republican again. Unless they come to their senses, and somehow moderate the more extreme members of their increasingly shrill party, they will continue  to relegate themselves to being a minority party with a regional power base. And well-deserved it would be.

The courthouse in the town square of Harrisonville, Missouri, county seat of Cass County, has engraved above its doorway the motto, "A public office is a public trust." We've seen entirely too many instances in the past that show how easily this notion is discarded by our public officials and elected leaders. These desecrations of the ideal of public service have come equally from Republicans and Democrats. Our national troubles are too serious and put our nation at too much risk for business as usual to be the order of the day.


I can't believe I'm the only person in this country who feels this way.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sticks and Stones

...may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

How many times have we said that as children? If some bully was calling us names, we might repeat this phrase, sure in the knowledge that so long as the bully didn't hit us, we would be all right.

Words are funny things. By themselves, they seem ephemeral, immaterial. Fleeting things that once said, can never be recaptured. Of course, why would you want to recapture something that can never hurt you?

Real things, on the other hand--now those can hurt you deeply. You can be injured by something falling on to you from a height. You can be hurt by an assault. You can be damaged by stormy weather, by an automobile accident, by the bite of an infectious mosquito.

Real things--these can be actual objects, or they can be events that impinge on your life. You can be hurt by the closing of the factory where you work. You can pay a price for the dissolution of a marriage. You can be thrown into turmoil by the loss of a parent.

Thoughts are kind of like words, except they're even more immaterial than words. Thoughts are secret, private, hidden away in the fortress of our skulls. That is, they are until they force their way out of that stronghold--as words. Then those private, hidden thoughts can be out in the wild.

But wait a minute! Are words really so immaterial? What about words that can hurt? Are there really such things? How about words like, "I Hate You!" Or, "You're Fired!" Or, "I Hope You Die!" How about all those hateful epithets that we use so often without even thinking? And where's the thought in that?

So, maybe, that childhood rhyme isn't really true after all. Maybe sticks and stones aren't the only things that can hurt us. Maybe words can hurt us every bit as deeply as anything that's physical.

The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about words. They had the word "logos." That's the same word that appears in the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 1, where we read "In the beginning was the Word." The "Word" is Jesus, the "Word" in Greek is "logos." The logos was with God, and the logos was God. Suddenly a word becomes infinitely powerful--the very word is God. This word is something beyond our everyday experience. This word creates, maintains, judges, and can destroy.

Suddenly, you can utter "My word!" and mean "My God!"

When we talk about matters of the spirit, we use words. We have thoughts, ideas, and we express them in words. And they seem pretty safe. But give some thought to this--words are powerful. They move in ways that we may not realize at first. What's the phrase used in so many confessions in the church--"we have sinned against you in thought, word and deed." Ah--there's that progression. thought becomes word, and word engenders deed.

Word moves through that membrane and becomes deed. It shapes what we do. It takes on life of its own and moves about amongst men, and does its work. What thought formed in that mind to be expressed in that word, which became flesh in that deed?

There's a mystery. That just as we can think and speak and act, God thought, and spoke, and his Word became flesh among us.

The world is a lot more than literalists would have us believe. We live in a space that has not only physical and temporal dimension, but also conceptual and intellectual and spiritual dimension. Emotions live there. Demons can be found anywhere, waiting to attach themselves to minds that aren't aware of what lies in wait in the darker corners. Actions in the physical and temporal realm intersect and mediate in the intellectual and spiritual realm just as strongly. Words have a long train; they are attached to more than we might think at first.

We inhabit realms that we can't see with our eyes, but where there is a reality that can affect us just as much as anything we encounter in 3D. We set ourselves up for damage and hurt if we fail to be aware of this fact.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Of Two Minds

I've had some correspondence lately with friends that has inspired me to examine the clash of attitudes that is currently afflicting our nation. I'm speaking, of course, about the toxic climate that characterizes our debates on politics, health care reform, race relations, and so much else.

I try, I really try, but I can’t avoid seeing the news, and the kind of hate that spews forth from the mouths of people like Rush Limbaugh, or the absolute terror sometimes visible in the weepy eyes of Glenn Beck. No, I can’t avoid this nauseating mess--it’s displayed, repeatedly, for all to see by Left-leaning people who are making a point about all the bile from the Screaming Right. The Left is saying it’s all racist hatred. I think it’s actually more than that, although the race of our President undoubtedly plays into this.

What I think we’re seeing is exactly the kind of reaction one should expect from people who don’t want to change. Even if the change will make things better for them, when change is being forced upon them, they'll resist it for all they're worth. President Obama’s campaign slogan was “Change we can believe in.” These people don’t want to change--it’s inevitable that they’d be hostile to anything this President does or stands for, and that’s not limited just to his politics, but also to him personally.

It interesting to me that there are people in this country who, at one and the same time, welcome the newest technological gadgets and services, and yet cling to old notions of what America really is. Somewhere in the middle of a spectrum of attitudes, these people are in a conflicted state that will find no peace of mind. At the one extreme, there are those who welcome change of all kinds, people who wrap their arms around novelty and new realities and find something thrilling about living with one foot in the future. At the other extreme are those who don't welcome any change, who can't abide that "internet thing," who find any change frightening and a threat to be fought. I'm probably a little closer to the "future huggers," while some of my friends are probably closer to the other end of that range.

I keep hearing the phrase “Obama’s America,” as if that were somehow different from the America that the rest of us live in. “Obama’s America,” as though the President is trying to separate and align us along racial lines. This is in spite of the fact that the White House has been trying to get bi-partisan movement going on a number of different fronts, despite the fact that in this whole “He Lies!” business, the President hasn’t responded in the way that partisans on the Left want him to respond, by playing the victim.

As a believer in Jesus the Anointed One, I find neither side in this struggle worth following. I know one thing, though--Jesus would never have condoned the kind of hate I see in such attitudes, and one day, there will be an accounting. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will  be called children of God.” The people on the Right and the Left who fan the flames of our strife are far from being a blessing to anyone at this time of national division. No, they’re in a hell of their own making, and only they have the key to finding their way out. It's just a sad fact that they're dragging the rest of us down with them. May God help us all!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Two Towers Falling...

This is the eighth anniversary of a tragic day for this country.

Volumes have been, and will continue to be, written about that day and what it meant at the time and what it means for the future. There are memoirs, commission reports, scholarly papers, diatribes, historical essays, and so much more. Much is being said about this event today.

I'd like to make some personal observations on my own feelings about 9/11.

I will never forget the disbelief that our office staff felt as we absorbed the television coverage of what was happening on September 11, 2001. I'll forever remember the contrails looped across the bright sky as all aircraft in the United States were grounded that day. I'll never forget the feeling of national unity that rose out of the ashes of Ground Zero and the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania in the days immediately following the attacks.

Whatever else may be said about Glenn Beck, I think he's on to something with his 9-12 Project. After long years of rancorous political campaigns and caustic political "debates," I would love to see us return to a sense of national unity. It certainly beats what we have now. How far have we come...

One thing that died that day was our sense of where we were in the world. We learned first-hand that there were men out there who wanted us to die. We saw evil in an absolute disregard for the lives of thousands of Americans. We discovered that we were assailable.

We entered a new, darker world that sunny September day.

We're now involved in two wars thousands of miles from our shores. We're learning all over again the lesson of Vietnam--that American power and military might does not make for a quick victory against a determined foe. That we weary as a people of commitments that may last for decades, and at the cost of thousands of American lives.

But there are lessons that Vietnam never taught, lessons that we've learned too well, in my estimation.

We've learned that we can be fearful. It's hard to think that we're the same "land of the free and home of the brave," when fear of someone of a different political position can cause you to attack that person as bitterly as we've seen in the recent healthcare reform townhalls. That's not bravery; that's fear so strong you can smell it, and it stinks.

We've learned that it truly is a global society and economy. Even as our own sub-prime mortgage meltdown and its consequences began devouring our own economy, we saw other countries sink into recession themselves. Even as we begin to see returning financial activity, tentative and unevenly spread, we understand that it may be years before we see a return to levels of employment that existed before the Great Recession.

We've learned that the future may not be as rosy as we had always thought it was. We've lost trillions of dollars of paper wealth in the stock market meltdown; some boomers approaching retirement age have watched their entire nest eggs disappear. Homes have been lost to foreclosure, millions of them. Jobs have been lost, millions of them. Possibilities are being truncated, downsized, and completely eliminated for many people.

Reality is a brutal taskmaster. For all the dislocation and disruption that has occurred, though, isn't it better to face the world as it is, rather than as you wish it could be? 9/11 and its aftermath have helped to clear our eyes.

As dark as this world can be, there remains hope. As a Christian I don't have the option of being a pessimist. By swearing allegiance to the risen Jesus, I've publicly announced that I believe there is a bright future ahead. Even in my darker moments, I can't turn away from that deep abiding faith in the triumph of God over all that separates us from our true home.

I cringe when I hear about suicide bombers in Afghanistan. My heart blossoms when I see my grand-daughter.

I feel sadness for those Americans who have lost their jobs or their homes. I feel hope when I see that the church is helping them to make it to another day, and when the community of faith and its individual members are looking out for their neighbors.

I believe that this dark time will not endure. I believe in the future, regardless of how hard our present is. I pray that we will have the strength and humility and faith to see that future arrive.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

This Really Sucks--Part Two

You knew there was going to be a "Part 2" to this, didn't you?

When I posted my entry "This Really Sucks!" yesterday, I concluded that I couldn't hate the liars, idiots, fools, tools, gasbags, purveyors of lies, cynical opportunists, right-wing nutjobs, left-wing nutjobs, progressive shills, or anyone else who's embedded into the national debate on healthcare reform. I had to be a living embodiment of Jesus instead, and love, forgive, and pray for, all of us flawed human beings.

But that's so unsatisfactory. The ones who yell the loudest win, and they don't deserve to win. Right? Shouldn't truth win out?

Sure it should. And how do you go about working toward that end?

It's very simple, but not necessarily easy. The simple part is, you tell the truth. The not-easy part is, you don't de-humanize those who are not telling the truth.

Tell the truth. Tell it at every opportunity. Tell it with all the passion you can, but make sure it's truthful. Know what you're talking about. Check your facts. Lies and half-truths have no place in a debate of ideas. Spin should be a dirty word here.

I said that there was no sure-fire guarantee that the debate would be won by truth-tellers. God's promises don't always work that way. We're a long way yet from the fully-realized Kingdom of Heaven; it's still a work in progress.

But, again, tell the truth. Confront those spreading distortions and lies. We're told in Scripture that the truth will make us free (check out John 8:32 for background on what Jesus said about this). Don't demonize those you are trying to correct in the process. In other words, once again referencing Scripture, don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (from Romans 12:21).

Once again, tell the truth. Lies destroy. Lies distort. Lies keep people in bondage to false ideas, foment hatred, keep people apart. Lies are the first and foremost tool of the evil in men's hearts. The battle between truth and lies is one that must be joined.

Every man or woman who enters politics finds that there are compromises they have to make in the course of their public careers. They find that they have to break promises they made in the campaigns. This is inevitable. We don't know everything we'll encounter when we embark on a career in politics; we will always be surprised at some point. The noblest man or woman will find that their ideals didn't prepare them for everything. Things will be said that will be heard as lies by some supporters. But they will still try to tell the truth. And so must we. We will fail, but we must try again. And again.

I don't know what the outcome of this raucous "debate" is going to be. I do know, however, that we need to work to get facts out there, and combat the lies and craziness that seems to have taken hold for too many people. Too much of our national discourse lately has been at this level. We as Americans deserve better. Only we can provide it for ourselves.

Monday, September 7, 2009

This Really Sucks!

This really sucks!

I've been doing the same thing as many other Americans lately. I've watched the network and website coverage of the healthcare reform "debate" that's been raging across our country. I've watched "birthers" and "death-panel" foes and gun-toting "Tree of Liberty" zealots spout their particular slogan of the day. I've watched as partisan spokesmen like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and just about anyone from Fox News spread lies, half-truths, and flat-out fantasies about healthcare and everything else that gets them riled up.

Just about anything gets these people riled up, it seems. They don't like liberals, progressives, President Obama and his administration, Democrats, or people who happen to agree with any of those groups. A few of them, like Governor Rick Perry of Texas, seem to want to take their ball and go home--the game has just become too hard for them, and it's time to secede from this Union.

I've found myself appalled and disgusted by the distortions and lying of this side of the political debate. And then along comes somebody from the other side, and does the same damned thing. Somebody calls Glenn Beck an idiot. Somebody makes disparaging remarks about Michael Steele, the chairman of the RNC. Keith Olbermann goes off on a rant against "The worst person in the world."

It really sucks that I can't hate all these people. It would be so much easier if I could just go after them and deny their humanity and demonize them like they do to each other.

I can't do that, though. And it's intensely frustrating.

I can't do it, you see, because I'm a Christian. I follow the teachings and life of a guy from a couple thousand years ago named Jesus. He was known by the title of "The Christ." That means "the anointed one," the "special one" selected by God to change the way we react to each other and with our creator. I happen to believe that Jesus was on a real mission, and that he was fully God and fully human. And I can't explain that any better than to say it's so.

Jesus doesn't give me a way to hate these people, those on the right or the left. He's pretty specific about it. He's quoted, for instance, in a book that was written about his life and sayings, the gospel of Matthew. Check out Matthew 5:44. "Pray for those who persecute you." "Love your enemies." There's not much wiggle room in those words. Dance around them all you want, if you truly believe that's what he said, then you have to follow through.

He doesn't give me an easy way to "beat" them, or to "triumph over" them.

I can't be guaranteed to come out the "winner" in any kind of debate, at least by the standards of the political arena.

Given the tone of our national discussion lately, you could certainly say that Jesus is being un-American. I don't think he wore an American flag lapel pin.

So what do I do about all these liars, cynical opportunists, partisan gasbags, and delusional demagogues?

I have to stop thinking of them in those terms.

I have to start seeing them as damaged persons, just as messed up as I am, just as willing to go for blood as my initial impulse is.

I have to forgive them their frailty.

I have to admit my own frailty.

I have to love them. Wish the best for them. Pray for them.

It's frustrating. It sucks. But I don't have a choice in the matter. Not if I'm going to be a friend of Jesus.